Album Review: Howler – World of Joy

By on Wednesday, 26th March 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

The defining moment of Howler’s sophomore release, ‘World of Joy’, is its title track. The passenger door opens, and still at top speed, any memory of youthful, throwaway ditties about girls and under-age drinking are unceremoniously ejected, forever to languish by the side of the road. What replaces them is an enormous, uncompromising Phrygian riff, some insane, atonal organ, countless layers of distorted guitar – and the song title repeated over and over again. It’s like being assaulted by The Joker’s teeth – a sickly sweet psychedelic smile of a song, determined to make you submit to its groove by sheer force of personality alone.

Not that the rest of the album is exactly easy listening. Ten tracks in 28 minutes shows an admirable attention to brevity – less than half of the tracks here broach the 3-minute mark. ‘World of Joy’ is a collection of brief jolts of energy, like sticking a fork in an electrical socket. There’s no clever production techniques – indeed, on more than one track a point is made of retaining the studio ambience: talking in the background, amp hum, mise en scène artifice at once clichéd yet effective. ‘Al’s Corral’ sets out the stall – cowbell, a guitar 101 riff, and a story which presumably makes sense to teenage American males. ‘Drip’ is the first hint of how psych Howler are prepared to go: 50s B-movie sound effects adorn a 2-minute noisefest of threatening intensity. ‘Don’t Wanna’ comes over all relatively melodic, the clean guitar arpeggios reminiscent of The Lemonheads’ ‘Ray’ period, and could even be the stroppy cousin of early R.E.M., comparisons which recur throughout the album.

This is American garage rock, wildly updated for 2014 – of course the U.K. has had its fair share of ramshackle indie revivalists, from the millennial soap opera posturing of The Libertines, who with hindsight sound tame and overblown, to the recent noisy bromance of Palma Violets, whose promise still remains tragically unfulfilled. Thus Howler have a neat vacuum into which to step. They are faster, louder, crazier – simply better – than the competition. After a long period of the Brits showing the Americans how to do garage rock, here’s the payback. Rock and roll is alive, and it lives in Minneapolis.

8/10

Howler’s second album ‘World of Joy’ is out now on Rough Trade. The band just began a UK tour with support group Broken Hands on Monday; all the details are here.

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